Daljit Nagra at Reading Revolutionaries

by Aki Schilz

Dear all,

The past two weeks have been a blur of haze and literary glitter, through which I have passed breathlessly, drawing into myself pieces of information like shards of light, which nestle now, glowing gently, waiting to be shed back into the world. I shall be blogging retrospectively on the events and visits in the week. For now, though, quickly before I leave the house, is a little information about tonight’s event, most exciting for me since it will feature Chinua Achebe , a man whose strength and wisdom leave me utterly awestruck.

Tonight, I shall be interviewing Daljit Nagra ahead of the ‘Reading Revolutionaries’ event at Free the Word!, featuring Chinua Achebe via video conference, as well as writers Sujata Bhatt, Maureen Freely, Blake Morrison and Derek Walcott. Circumstances permitting (the volcano has cast its ash across the skies and unfortunately some of the writers due to appear have been unable to board flights; though I did catch wind of one particularly resilient character so determined to attend that he had considered travelling by ferry), I shall have an hour or so to speak with award-winning poet Daljit Nagra.

In 2004, his poem “Look We Have Coming to Dover!” won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. This is also the title of his first collection, published in 2007, which won the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. Look We Have Coming to Dover! was also shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award and the Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.

Here is the poem that got the ball rolling:

Look we have coming to Dover!

So various, so beautiful, so new …
Arnold, Dover Beach

Stowed in the sea to invade
the lash alfresco of a diesel-breeze
ratcheting speed into the tide with brunt
gobfuls of surf phlegmed by the cushy
come-and-go tourists prow’d on the cruisers, lording the waves.

Seagull and shoal life bletching
vexed blarnies at our camouflage past
the vast crumble of scummed cliffs.
Thunder in its bluster unbladdering yobbish
rain and wind on our escape, hutched in a Bedford van.

Seasons or years we reap
inland, unclocked by the national eye
or a stab in the back, teemed for breathing
sweeps of grass through the whistling asthma
of parks, burdened, hushed, poling sparks across pylon and pylon.

Swarms of us, grafting
in the black within shot of the moon’s spotlight,
banking on the miracle of sun to span
its rainbow, passport us to life. Only then
can it be human to bare-faced, hoick ourselves for the clear.

Imagine my love and I,
and our sundry others, blared in the cash
of our beeswax’d cars, our crash clothes,
free, as we sip from an unparasol’d table
babbling our lingoes, flecked by the chalk of Britannia.

EDIT

Daljit was unable to give the interview we had hoped for as he was busy preparing for the event when Mary-Jane and I arrived just before 6. We were half relieved (both of us get nervous about doing things like interviews ‘properly’) and half disappointed, but the event more than made up for it and I hope you will find my blogs on the event itself (above) interesting to read.

A poem I have since discovered of Daljit’s has really struck a chord with me. Sharing a title and theme with Seamus Heaney’s poem, ‘Digging’ deals with issues of identity. The peat from Heaney’s poem is here the flesh of the body, layers of flesh like layers of heritage, at once different and the same; bloodlines of culture, poetic bloodlines, Shylock’s lament (“does not a Jew bleed?”). We are all the same once the skin is peeled from the body. The body we have, somewhere along the way, separated from the mind; a dangerous and harmful division.

“God weakened man so he would fear my hellfire and love my paradise” – Nawal el Saadawi

‘Digging’ (which for copyright reasons cannot be reproduced here in my blog, even with appropriate references; seems a pity really), is available to read here: http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=10591

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